Miss Anna's Frigate, страница 1
Miss Anna’s Frigate
Copyright ©Jens Kuhn 2010
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction holding me fast, how
Can I escape this irresistible grasp?
Many people have helped me with this book. I will explicitly mention just a few: Gudrun Ingemarsson for her knowledge about Swedish history, Melanie Sherman for her useful comments and adverbial forgiveness and, again, my wife Helena for being who she is.
Jens Kuhn is a journalist. He lives with his wife and cat in Stockholm, Sweden. During the summer months he sails his small yacht in the same waters where the action of this novel takes place.
His Britannic majesty’s frigate Tartar of 32 guns labored heavily in the steep seas of the Baltic winter storm. Ice cold spray drenched the few people of her crew whose duty did not permit them to seek the shelter of the galley – or any other place that was less wet, albeit not less warm. Many of the crew were sick, a fact that might seem strange considering that the ships and men of the Royal Navy were used to sail in any weather and on any ocean on the planet.
But ships built to cross oceans in any weather, and men used to it, still can become affected by the unusual motion of the Baltic Sea. A small body of water it is and very shallow. It is this shallowness that makes the waves steep and choppy in a blow, a motion which still can make even a seasoned sailor’s stomach queasy. Add the extreme cold of the northern latitudes and the often poor clothing of the sailor – and you have a recipe that easily can get you into trouble.
In the great cabin, captain Baker tried to keep himself from falling out of his chair while he read his latest orders once again. He had been on the Baltic station for almost a year now, sent here last spring when war broke out between Sweden and Russia. Sweden, being Britain’s ally in the seemingly endless struggle against the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte, needed help with the Russian high seas fleet. A British squadron had been sent and together with Swedish frigates and ships of the line they had managed to blockade the Russians in Estonia and essentially prevent them from throwing their weight into the fight.
Not that it made any difference. Sweden was losing the war anyway, losing it rapidly. During the summer of 1808 Russian troops had managed to occupy Finland. Now they were preparing for the winter campaign – probably just waiting for the ice to bridge the way to the Åland islands and the Swedish mainland. Captain Baker tried to imagine the sight of a whole army, thousands of men, marching over the ice just like that. Horses, gun carriages, everything. The thought was so strange to him that he had difficulties taking it seriously. But he knew it had been done before, in fact quite regularly.
Returning back to his orders, Baker frowned. He would be stuck here during the winter and he didn’t like it. After a year of boring patrols and running errands for the bigger ships’ captains he would have liked to return to warmer waters and get some real action. Perhaps the Mediterranean, or even the West Indies. Where the water was warm, the sun shining and the crew could work on deck without freezing to death. He called to the sentry at his door. “Pass the word for Mr. Reeman and Mr. Pope!”
“Gentlemen,” captain Baker said, once the first lieutenant and the sailing master had arrived, shivering from the short walk on the deck outside. “We have new orders, I am afraid.”
“We are not going home then, sir?” Reeman’s words came out not really a question.
“No. Quite the opposite. We are to proceed to the Swedish capital, if the ice will let us, that is.”
The sailing master looked startled. “And if it does not, sir?”
“Then we are to anchor as close to the place as possible, Mr. Pope.”
“But why?” Reeman looked puzzled. “What can we do if we are all trapped in the ice and unable to move, sir?”
“I think,” the captain answered thoughtfully, “that this is quite the idea, my dear fellow. The admiralty wants us to be stuck up here.”
“But for what purpose?”
“In order to keep an eye on things, I dare say.”
“Like spying, sir?”
“If you choose to put it that way, lieutenant. Now, plot me a course for the coast, Mr. Pope. Mr. Reeman, instruct the lookouts to keep an eye open for ice. Oh, and they are to be relieved every half hour – if they’ll last that long at all in this cold...”
Chapter 1 – Winter bliss
“Won’t you come back to bed, darling?” Anna said softly. She was lying on her side, her head propped up by her left arm, looking at the naked back of the man who was in front of the fireplace on the other side of the room. He was stacking up pieces of wood, working efficiently. Anna admired the play of the muscles along his back.
“In a minute, dear, I just want to get this fire going. Aren’t you freezing?”
Anna shivered. Of course she was freezing. This was Sweden in winter. She pulled up the sheet closer around her with her right hand.
“But the maid can do this, Eric.” Anna smiled to herself hearing her own words. She had never had a maid in her whole life. She had never even lived in a house this big, and she still had difficulties believing it sometimes.
Anna Wetterstrand, well, at least this was the name she was still using after the events of last summer, had never been rich. Of course, she had met rich people before, she even had stayed over in a few castles – but that had been work, duty. She had enjoyed it, naturally, but she had always been aware that she was there, doing what she did, for a purpose not of her own.
Then she had met Eric af Klint, the young nobleman with his thin, wiry body, soft, clean hands and this very special nose. He had been gunnery officer aboard an inshore fleet gunboat that had delivered her to one of her missions, into Russian occupied Finland. He had also saved her life and touched her heart. But many a man had done that, without her reacting this weirdly. Anna was a true creature of the senses, using her female abilities to her best advantage almost on a daily basis - and she had succeeded very well with this approach in the past.
She wasn’t a beautiful woman in the classic sense of the word. Her skin wasn’t pale enough, her face was a little too round and she might just be a little too short for her beam. But that was compensated nicely by her shapely breasts and her big eyes. The eyes were blue or pale green, depending on the light at hand – and perhaps her mood. Her hair was long and curly and not exactly blond unless she had stayed too long in the sun. However, her main attractiveness lay not in her bodily features themselves, but in the way she used them.
The men she’d met had been too dazzled, enchanted, to even understand that she wanted something different from them than intimacy and sex – or they had not been able to resist her anyway. And being who she was, Anna usually felt attracted to her victims herself, making it much easier to be convincing.
Eric, however, was different. He had not been attracted to her from the beginning, rather the opposite. He had kept his distance, always being polite, but never crossing the line. When they finally did make love, it wasn’t he who’d started it, and Anna had realized that Eric probably was the first man she’
She still did not think it would work in the long run. Eric af Klint was a nobleman and officer, and she was a poor mysterious girl who did not talk about her past, and who was deep into clandestine work, using her body as a tool. Eric knew this and had eventually convinced her to try being together anyway, at least over the winter. In the best of cases, this would be the beginning of something wonderful, but if it didn’t work out, they still would have shared a few weeks of bliss.
Eric had gotten the fire going and was turning around, facing her. “I might not want the maid in here for a while just yet,” he said, looking into Anna’s eyes.
“Oh.” Anna suddenly did not feel the cold any more as her body reacted to his words and the lust she saw in his eyes. She lifted the sheet and he slipped into the bed, his cold body pressing hard against the warmth of her. Anna sighed as he kissed her hungrily.
Two hours later they were having breakfast. The room was nice and warm and the coffee was fresh and hot. Eric af Klint looked out of the window. Snowflakes were falling lazily, some of them stuck to the glass of the window, slowly melting. He turned his head and saw Anna looking at him questioningly.
“What’s on your mind?”
They had been in this house for many weeks now. Anna, Eric, the maid and a groom who tended the stable. It wasn’t extraordinarily big, but it was an estate and it was Eric’s. His parents were both dead, the father having been killed in the last war against Russia and his mother had died only a few years later. It was the perfect love nest, Anna thought. The estate lay to the west of Stockholm, surrounded by deep forests and farmland. In front of the house was a big lawn that slowly sloped down towards the water of lake Mälaren. In the summer, one could sail a boat from here right into the center of the capital. Now, of course, the boats were all hauled ashore as the ice on the lake became thicker for every day.
“Well,” Eric said, looking at her. “I have been thinking for a while now – with the ice this thick...”
“Yes?” She looked at him curiously.
“Eh, well, we could take out the sleigh.”
“Oh! Yes, darling, what a marvelous idea! Where are we going?”
“Well, in fact we might go to the city. If you don’t mind, of course...” Looking a little worried.
“To Stockholm? Why should I mind, Eric?”
“Well, I thought, you might think it would break the spell, perhaps?”
Anna suddenly realized what he was thinking. They had been in this house together for weeks, never meeting any people except themselves. If they went to Stockholm, they would have to meet people, and now he was thinking that might shatter their blissful existence, pulling them apart. She put her hand firmly on Eric’s. “You are so sweet, darling. Don’t worry, I’d love to go to town. We could go to the theater, perhaps?”
Eric smiled. “Yes, we could. And we could meet Lieutenant Kuhlin and his wife, if you like”.
“When are we leaving?”
Chapter 2 – Ice piloting
During the night, the wind had eased a little and veered round to the southwest. It was still blowing a good force six, normally warranting top gallants and reefed topsails, but being quite a little wary of the threat of ice, captain Baker had ordered HMS Tartar to be under topsails only. Thus going slower, but steadily with the wind aft of the beam, the ship moved north towards the islands off the Swedish capital.
As a midshipman, Baker had been in a sloop of war on a mission to the Arctic sea. Chasing a French privateer, they had risked not only their lives, but their ship by cruising precariously near floating ice, growlers and even the occasional iceberg. Their prey, the privateer, had been a converted whaling ship, built much more sturdily and able to take the punishment from crushing ice – at least to a degree. They had taken her, but at a high cost indeed. Severely damaged by ice, with seams leaking and several fothering sails needed to keep her afloat, their ship had made it in the end, to the safe shelter of a British port, and a dry dock to take her in. But Baker had learned his lesson. Sailing into waters where there could be ice was not to be taken lightly at all.
When the ice forms in the Baltic, it starts from the north and from the land and slowly moves southwards and out to sea. The Gulf of Bothnia, from its inner end towards the Åland islands usually freezes solid and so do the archipelagos along the east coast. However, it varies considerably how far the ice will extend out to the open waters of the Baltic proper. Some winters it covers most of it, some not. In any case, it usually covers the most in late January and early February.
When HMS Tartar closed the shore, there was still no sea ice that far south of Åland, although it had been reported that the inner archipelago was iced over considerably. Still, Baker hoped they would be able to bring the ship far enough into the channels between the islands to make a journey into the capital reasonably comfortable. Having discussed the matter with his sailing master, Mr. Pope, an experienced man in his late forties, Baker had decided on two favored anchorages. The first was only six miles from the capital itself at Baggensfjärden, just outside the small channel of Baggenstäket, where Swedish forces in a desperate effort had managed to stop the Russian assault in 1719. The channel itself would most certainly be blocked by ice, but outside was a fairly big stretch of water that might be open. To get to it, however, the frigate would have to maneuver through the narrows at Saltsjöbaden. This was difficult enough to do without the right wind, but if there was already ice, it would be impossible altogether.
The second alternative was Dalarö. About three times farther south, the trip into Stockholm would not be as comfortable, but on the other hand there was a fortress at Dalarö and a small settlement which hopefully would have a boarding house or tavern. There being a military presence also should imply that some means of communication would probably be in place. But you could never be sure with the Swedes, captain Baker thought. After all they still didn’t copper coat their ships against marine growth, rendering perfectly good vessels much slower than they could have been.
Baker donned his greatcoat and made his way up to the quarterdeck once again. It was still cold, but with the wind blowing less strongly, being outside didn’t feel like imminent death any more. There were more men on deck forward now as well, mostly extra lookouts, but one group of men thrashed away at the lower shrouds with wooden clubs in order to remove the coating of ice that had formed on the tarred ropes. The ice did not only make it difficult for the crew to climb the rigging, if unattended it also could make the frigate top heavy. It was not uncommon for ships to capsize due to iced over rigging and sails. Baker moved over to the binnacle and checked the compass.
“North northeast as ordered, sir.” Reeman, his first lieutenant, offered helpfully.
“The log?” captain Baker asked.
“Five knots, sir.”
Baker grunted. Five knots was not fast for a frigate, but hitting solid ice at that speed could damage her nonetheless. Probably even sink her if the impact was in the right – or rather wrong – place. He considered ordering the topsails reefed to slow her down further, but decided against it. If they went too slowly they might not get to their destination before it was all iced over.
“Very well.” Baker turned and started to stroll back to the warmth of his cabin when there was a shout from the foremast top.
“Go ahead!” Reeman acknowledged.
“Ice on the larboard bow!”
“How much of it?”
“Looks like a lot, sir!”
Captain Baker turned to his second in command. “Go up there if you please, Mr. Reeman and take a glass with you”.
“Aye aye, sir”.
A few minutes later, the first lieutenant looked through his telescope at the distant white line to the northwest. It did not look as solid as he would have expected, like it could as easily have been a
“What do you see?” The captain shouted impatiently.
“I’m not sure, it’s still quite far away, sir. Could be fog perhaps?”
“I’m coming up.”
Baker did not like going up into the rigging. Not that he was afraid of heights, he merely thought of it as a task not worthy a post captain. But this was important, none of the men up there had any experience of sailing in ice, and he had. So he bit his lip and climbed the cold tarry ropes. Once atop he took the telescope Reeman offered him and put it to his eye.
“That’s ice, no doubt,” he declared, moving the glass slowly to the right. “And there is an island. Hmm.” He put down the telescope and gave it back to the lieutenant.
“There is a stretch of open water between the ice and that island. We will alter course accordingly.”
“Aye aye, sir”. Both men descended to the deck carefully.
Two hours later, HMS Tartar was right in the middle of it. A vast expanse of ice stretched off her larboard side all the way to the distant coast. Farther to the north, a darker shadow loomed out of the whiteness, and on its seaward end showed something that looked like a small tower.
“That would be the Landsort lighthouse,” the sailing master pointed out. All three officers stood on the quarterdeck, shivering.
“Landsort, eh?” Reeman said. “Sounds almost like Land’s End. I wish it were...”
“Keep your mind on the task at hand, Mr. Reeman,” captain Baker snapped. This kind of piloting was not at all his kettle of fish.
“Sorry, sir. Um, sir, may I ask a question?”
Baker looked at him, smiling slightly now.
“Of course, lieutenant.”
“Well, I was thinking that, once we anchor, sir. If there will be ice all around us...will we not be crushed?”